A yearling male gray wolf was hit and killed by a passing vehicle July 7 on Highway 26/89/191 (Hwy 89) near Elk Ranch Flats in Grand Teton National Park. The black-colored wolf, weighing 75 pounds, is likely a member of the Phantom Springs wolf pack that frequents the eastern portion of Grand Teton.
This pack has existed since 2008 and maintained a territory in this area since 2010, according to information released by the park’s public affairs office. Park rangers discovered the dead wolf lying in the road at 11:45 p.m. and later received a call from the driver who stated that the wolf suddenly darted out into the traffic lane and he could not swerve to avoid hitting the animal.
According to the Code of Federal Regulations, a motor vehicle operator is required to report an accident involving property damage, personal injury, or death—which includes the injury or death of wildlife.
The expanse between Moran Junction and Triangle X Ranch, which includes Elk Ranch Flats, is a wildlife-rich area of the park. Stretches of Hwy 89 in this area contain dense roadside vegetation that can reduce the visibility of animals that may be lingering nearby. Wildlife are frequently found near riparian areas, and motorists should slow down, be more alert and use extra caution while driving through riparian areas with limited roadside visibility. Two such areas lie south of the Moran Junction and also Gros Ventre Junction.
Vehicles take a significant toll on park wildlife, resulting in the deaths of well over 100 animals per year.
In the past five years, five wolves and 12 bears (grizzly and/or black bears) were involved in vehicle collisions in Grand Teton National Park that resulted in the injury or death of the animal. The tally includes: 2010, two wolves and five bears (one grizzly bear); 2011, one wolf and two black bears; 2012, two wolves and four bears (two grizzlies); and 2014, one black bear. In addition to wolves and bears, other wildlife such as elk, moose, bison, deer, pronghorn antelope, and smaller creatures such as beavers, marmots, and porcupines have been killed in vehicle collisions, as well. Encounters between vehicles and bears or wolves—among other wildlife—serve as a reminder that animals actively use areas near park roads and also cross these roads without warning.
In 2012, Grand Teton park managers lowered the nighttime speed limit to 45 mph in an effort to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions. Many collisions with wildlife occur from dusk to dawn when a combination of low light and speed increases the chance for hitting an animal. It is important to note that driving defensively and lowering vehicle speeds can increase the margin of safety for both people and wildlife. Collisions with wildlife may result in severe damage to a vehicle, serious or fatal injuries to the occupants of that vehicle, and/or death for the animal involved.